A design that incorporates a soft hydrogel external wall and a conducting polymer as a
supporting internal wall may serve as a tunnel to reconnect severed nerves.
(Credit: Mohammad Reza Abidian)

Posted by Matthew Swayne-Penn State on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 11:42

Tunnel built to guide severed nerves

PENN STATE (US) — Engineers have created a new hybrid tunnel to help severed nerve endings reconnect.

The tunnel, made of both hard and soft materials, may be the first step toward helping patients who have suffered extensive nerve trauma regain feeling and movement, according to the researchers.

“Nerve injury in both central nervous system and peripheral nervous system is a major health problem,” says Mohammad Reza Abidian, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State. “According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are approximately 290,000 individuals in the US who suffer from spinal cord injuries with about 12,000 new injuries occurring each year.”

Spontaneous nerve regeneration is limited to small lesions within the injured peripheral nerve system and is actively suppressed within central nervous system.

When a nerve in the peripheral nervous system is cut slightly, nerve endings can regenerate and reconnect. However, if the distance between the two endings is too far, the growth can go off course and fail to connect.

The researchers, who published their results in the current issue of Advanced Healthcare Materials, developed a novel hybrid conduit that consisted of a soft material, called a hydrogel, as an external wall along with an internal wall made of an electrically-active conducting polymer to serve as a tunnel that guides the regrowth and reconnection of the severed nerve endings.

Read more: Futurity.org – Tunnel built to guide severed nerves.

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